Kenya’s young to digitalize farming

A group of young graduates in Kenya have introduced a mobile-phone enabled technology which will help farmers in rural Africa to link up with crop researchers, meteorological departments and veterinary scientists to better their farm yields.

Calvins Okello, a science graduate from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and a colleague, Gordon Owiti, have developed the new technology that seeks to digitalize Africa’s agriculture and enable the government agencies to solve the crisis of
poor food distribution.

The technology, known as M-SHAMBA, a Kiswahili word for Mobile Farming, seeks to empower farmers with the latest technology innovations from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the weather updates from the Kenya Meteorological Department to increase
predictability of farming.

“This is a unique new technology that gives information to farmers. This information is stored in a chip in the phone memory and enables the farmer to receive information on the various aspects of farming,” Okello said during the Science and Technology Innovation (STI) conference underway in Nairobi. Farmers can receive the latest information on cattle rearing techniques and have a chance to bargain for the highest price for their produce by placing their produce in the online platform. “It helps the farmers to sell online, notifying the market about the farm produce. Farmers are able to connect with buyers from great distances but it is up to the farmer in Kisumu to decide whether they want to sell to a buyer in Mombasa despite the great transportation barriers,” Okello said.

The information is directly obtained from certified research, which is a more cost-effective way of allowing the researchers to see the outcomes of their work. To make the product more easily accessible to the farmers, the two innovators are currently investing in translating research papers into the more popularly spoken Kiswahili language. However, they say they are constrained by a lack of loan funding.

Okello said the software enables the farmers to manage their farm records by entering the date of planting into an automated database, from where they are able to receive short messages and reminders about when to plant, based on the meteorological data findings. Owiti said the new technology has been developed with the sole intention of enticing the youth and those in professional cadres that agriculture can be technological savvy and is “cool.”

“I would like to see the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) developing small gardens even at the back of their urban homes to produce tomatoes, this is a way to enhance food security. We are all saying we can all work together to enhance food sufficiency,” Owiti said.

He said the new technology will help to re-brand farming, making it a knowledge-based undertaking that involves all levels of the society, based on the latest technology initiatives.

Kenya has often suffered food shortages and hunger and starvation is an annual crisis. Besides the food shortages, various regions suffer from a food glut that often overwhelms the various state agencies tasked with managing the national grain stocks. Okello said the development of the new innovation was inspired by the failures witnessed within the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) in Kenya, which despite receiving too much crop deliveries-- from Kilgoris, a fertile region in the Rift Valley, was unable to supply it to Mombasa, which suffered shortages.

“There is biting food shortages in Kenya. We are trying to alleviate this problem by delivering the information to the farmers,” he asserted.